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Honoring the late Harry Van Arsdale, Jr.

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(State Assemblywoman Mayersohn, D-Fresh Meadows, saluted the late Harry Van Arsdale, Jr., who founded Local Union 3, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. She made these remarks in the Assembly right after Van Arsdale died in February 1985,)

Although Harry Van Arsdale was a labor leader who in a sense belongs to all of us who have our roots in the trade union movement, I had a rather unique relationship with him. He was also my constituent and my neighbor.

You see, I live in and represent the housing complex known as Electchester, built by Harry Van Arsdale and Local Union 3, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

I moved into Electchester 30 years ago when my husband and my father were both in the construction trades. We were among the original cooperators because we saw in this pioneer project an opportunity to raise our families and to live under decent conditions at rentals that we could afford. At that time, people were moving to Electchester from all parts of the city and the whole concept of co-ops was still very new.

[Electchester] was every bit the utopia that we expected it would be. We moved into a lovely brand-new apartment. We sent our children to good schools with other children whose parents had the same goals and aspirations for their youngsters that we had. There were marvelous activities for children and educational and cultural programs for everyone.

This was all part of the Van Arsdale vision that working people needed and deserved more than salary increases and that unions now had the opportunity and the responsibility and the resources to provide much more for their workers.

Harry Van Arsdale wanted them to have good housing and he built Electchester. He wanted them to have recreational and vacation resorts where they could inexpensively spend their leisure time and he built Bayberry in Southampton. He wanted his workers to have educational opportunities available to them and he provided tuition for their education. Among my friends and neighbors in Electchester were apprentices and journeymen who were attending college classes at New York University, Cooper Union, Columbia and Cornell.

Arsdale made scholarship programs available for the sons and daughters of electricians.

He said to his workers: You are entitled to a worry-free old age and he proposed and introduced one of the best pension plans in the country. And I know because many of my neighbors are enjoying their retirement and they are not eating cat food.

His union was among the first to provide free dental care, medical care, prescription drug programs -- all of the benefits that many of us now take for granted, but they were revolutionary ideals when Harry Van Arsdale first proposed them. Harry Van Arsdale had the vision, but he had much more. He had the brilliant leadership capability to make that vision a reality.

Harry Van Arsdale is described as one of the giants of American labor and, indeed, he was. I grew up in a trade union family at a time when unions were fighting for the right to organize, the right to exist, the right to represent the unrepresented and he was a very important figure in my life.

I knew and I will never forget what organized labor and its leadership meant to me and my family -- the security and independence, the escape from terrible working conditions and the assurance that working people would not have to depend upon the whim of Mr. Scrooge to decide whether or not there would be a turkey on our table for the holidays. No, we were going to negotiate that turkey and its trimmings at the bargaining table not only for the holidays but for every other day of the year and Mr. Van Arsdale was there to lead those negotiations.

To those of us who grew up in the labor movement Harry Van Arsdale was a leader whose name will always be revered because he said to millions of American workers for the work you produce, for the part you play in American industry, you too are entitled to the good life and he made that good life available to them.

We honor and we mourn Harry Van Arsdale.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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